It was a tremendous opportunity.
I’d been invited to speak to 900 entrepreneurs at the fall conference of GKIC, a leading provider of marketing information and tools for building small businesses.
I used to deliver training programs and speak on stage regularly, but that hasn’t been a primary focus for me in more than two decades.
While I was excited about the chance I’d be given, I knew I needed to prepare thoroughly. I’d been a member of this organization for years and had attended many of their meetings. I understood all too well how diverse the membership was and the challenge of creating a message that would captivate and inspire the audience to action.
I crafted my presentation with almost 100 PowerPoint slides, to keep the pace moving fast and hold the attention of the audience.
I rehearsed until I was comfortable with the material and my pace.
With all that preparation, I was still not prepared for what happened when I took the stage.
My mouth went absolutely dry.
I’d never experienced that feeling, in all the talks I’d given in the past.
I felt uncomfortable about taking a drink of water before I even spoke my first words, so I jumped right in. But I was self-conscious of the way I sounded and became distracted.
On top of that, the remote for changing slides had functions in different places than the one I was used to, so I made some early mistakes when changing the initial slides.
I could feel the anxiety building in my body, and I was concerned it would carry over into my voice.
So I paused to get a sip of water, took a deep breath, and reminded myself why I was there. “I am here to serve. They need to hear my message.”
It was as though a switch got turned on inside my head.
In an instant I was able to harness the positive energy I had for my topic and let go of the stress that had threatened to overtake me.
After 5 minutes of faltering, I went on to deliver an excellent presentation in the remaining 55 minutes.
As I later thought about the experience, of course, I wished that I could have made a stronger start.
But I also made sure to give myself credit for maintaining my composure instead of giving in to the fear and panic that bubbled up.
It’s not easy to maintain your cool and keep your feelings under control in the face of adversity. It’s tempting to let emotions take over.
Unfortunately, that can lead to undesirable consequences.
When you take time – even if it’s just a quick minute – to think about the potential impact of such an outburst on you and the people around you, you’re more likely to calm yourself and respond appropriately.
The more often you’re able to engage composure, the easier it will be for you to stay calm in the midst of unexpected situations.
“If you treat every situation as a life and death matter, you’ll die a lot of times.”
- Dean Smith, American college basketball coach (1931- )